'Dallas' does the near-impossible by crafting a satisfying new show

'Dallas,' a continuation of the saga of the oil-rich Ewings, has an almost perfect cast.

Erik Heinila/TNT/AP
'Dallas' star Josh Henderson (r.) steals every scene he's in, while actor Jesse Metcalfe (l.) erases any memories of his 'Desperate Housewives' stint.

There seem to be two questions asked by two different sets of people when it comes to tonight’s return to the infamous Southfork ranch of DALLAS fame. Folks who loved the iconic original want to know if the reboot is worthy of the original, and those too young to have watched the classic wonder if they’ll be able to dive into TNT’s version (launching with a two-hour premiere tonight at 9 p.m. ET) without feeling lost.
Happily, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
As someone who spent the seemingly endless summer of 1980 wondering who shot J.R. — along with the estimated 83 million people who tuned in on November 21, 1980 to learn that the triggerman had actually been his sister-in-law, Kristen — the thought of a network attempting to reboot DALLAS sent shivers down my spine. It wouldn’t — couldn’t — be the same.

And in some regards, that proved to be true.
After all, it’s been over two decades since CBS struck ratings gold by introducing us to the oil-loving Ewing family. We’ve changed and so, as it turns out, have they. Interestingly, it is the fact that TNT opted not to reboot the show so much as simply rejoin the family we know so well as if their lives have continued in our absence.
For longtime fans, it’s a bit jarring to see just how old our pals have gotten over the past 20 years, if only because it means we, too, have seen a lot of sand go through the hourglass. Like attending a 20-year high school reunion, our first impulse is to find out how everyone held up. But instead of hearing about the kids, jobs, wives and lives of those we’re catching up with, we get to see it all first hand. While getting over the initial shock of finding out that former football star Bobby Ewing is suffering from more than just the normal aches and pains associated with aging and his brother, J.R., is literally a shell of his former self, we are introduced to their respective sons. Proving the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Bobby’s adopted son Christopher is an upstanding young man while J.R. and Sue Ellen’s boy, John Ross, is clearly a conniver.
Connecting the two generations is something Gone With The Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara and her dad would appreciate: the land. Southfork, the beloved cattle ranch on which Ellie and Jock raised their family. And while the family’s beloved “mama” and her hubby are long gone, one thing remains: Her orders that no oil would ever be drilled on the sprawling property.
Thus, as with their father’s before them, battle lines are drawn between the younger Ewing siblings. And just for good measure, Christopher and John Ross also find themselves fighting over the one thing their dad’s never did: the love of a woman.
The cast is just about pitch-perfect. Larry Hagman (J.R.) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby) slip into their familiar parts like a comfortable pair of jeans. Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen isn’t given a whole lot to do (her character seems not to have learned a whole lot from her many, many past mistakes, especially where the men in her life are concerned) and Bobby’s new wife, Ann (Brenda Strong) has the thankless task of not being Pam, but both are somehow comforting presences. There are moments when Ann manages to evoke the spirit, if not the sometimes hidden fire, of Miss Ellie.
As for the younger cast, Josh Henderson (John Ross) is, simply put, a star. He steals every single scene he’s in, and that’s not an easy task given how often he’s paired with Hagman. Jesse Metcalfe’s Christopher does the seemingly impossible by, within minutes, erasing from the mind any and all memories of the actor’s most memorable stint, that of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES’ underaged, oversexed gardner, John. And Jordana Brewster gives Elena, the housekeeper’s daughter both guys love, a fascinating combination of earthiness, intelligence and spunk that allows the character to be completely different — and totally genuine — with each of her love interests.
If there’s a weak spot in the cast, it is Julie Gonzalo’s Rebecca, who comes across as bland compared to the vibrant characters populating the rest of the scene. One does, however, get a hint by pilot’s end that there’s more to Christopher’s bride-to-be than meets the eye.
Much like the character’s, the plot feels like a completely natural progression of the story we left back in 1991, especially once J.R. comes back to life, as it were, once a scheme is waved beneath his nose like smelling salts. Before long, secrets are revealed, lies are told, alliances are forged, backs are stabbed and it’s like our old pals never left.

Richard M. Simms blogs at The TV Addict.

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